The enthusiast digital camera market is a tough one. The consumers can often know more about the cameras being sold than the sales people trying to sell them. Don’t believe me? Go to Best Buy and start asking about the differences between any two cameras. Or, just eavesdrop on a conversation between a salesman and a shopper – I dare you to keep your mouth shut for the duration.
Samsung has been producing cameras with some very exciting features over the past year or so. But it has been far from a smooth road for the consumer electronics giant.
Samsung has been flopping around in the serious camera market (i.e., DSLR & mirrorless) for roughly a decade now. In early 2006, Samsung jumped into the scene with its GX-1S and GX-1L DSLRs, which were clones of the Pentax *ist DS2 and Pentax *ist DL2 (yes, those were real camera names – the *ist).
Those DSLRs were followed by the GX-10 and GX-20, which were also clones of the Pentax K10D and K20D during a several year stint in which Samsung and Pentax had a very awkward and strained partnership.
In January 2010, Samsung introduced the NX10 mirrorless camera. This is back when mirrorless cameras were a new phenomena and Samsung said its goal was to gain 50% of the global market share for mirrorless cameras that year.
Samsung has spent the past six years building up its NX series line of cameras while making some unique moves along the way. Samsung tied its mobile tech from the cell phone market to a camera in order to create the Samsung Galaxy Camera line, which is powered by the Android operating system.
Two of the more recent Samsung NX models capture 4K video at a relatively affordable price. The flagship Samsung NX1 retails for around $1500 (although can be found for much less now) and the consumer-oriented Samsung NX500 can currently be had for just under $500 with a kit lens.
Both of these recent models, the NX1 and the NX500, have attractive feature sets and produce quality images and video. After fumbling for a decade in the enthusiast digital imaging space, Samsung is finally starting to raise some eyebrows. However, we have been hearing rumors of Samsung pulling out of the market (already the case in Germany and UK) and, most recently, selling its NX camera tech to Nikon, which is something that Samsung denied.
Samsung has made so many mistakes over the past decade in building what should be a successful camera business. The biggest failure, however, is assuming that its global brand would sell a serious camera to more sophisticated consumers.
This should be evident from its goal (assumption?) to reach 50% of the global market share with zero history of actually building a camera in the market space back in 2010. It was almost a brand arrogance that Samsung could re-badge a Pentax DSLR with Samsung’s label and it would suddenly be more appealing to consumers shopping for DSLRs.
Unfortunately for Samsung, it missed the boat and wasted ridiculous amounts of time and money on DSLRs when it should have been laying the foundations for its mirrorless camera system in the market. In every review or forum post about each successive Samsung DSLR, enthusiasts pondered “why would we buy this over the Pentax version?”
There was no great discount for buying a Samsung camera. Pentax cameras is a brand our grandparents recognize and used for decades. Samsung makes cell phones, TVs, refrigerators and washing machines. Do I really want a sophisticated camera from an appliance company when I can buy the exact same thing from an historic camera company?
Imagine if Sony had not taken over Minolta’s camera business. Sony could very well be sitting in Samsung’s shoes today if it had instead “partnered” with Minolta. Sure, Sony produced a Minolta clone with the A100 (it’s first camera). However, then Sony innovated the hell out of digital imaging products for the enthusiast and has certainly changed the digital imaging market for the better.
Somehow, Sony saw the bigger picture in what mattered to enthusiast consumers and delivered disproportionate value in features and capabilities over what these consumers were accustomed to getting from the traditional players. And that built brand equity – big time.
Samsung, I thought, was slowly getting there. As noted above, the NX1 and NX500 have raised eyebrows of enthusiasts and Samsung is (was?) on the threshold of taking some brand-equity leaps. But the recent moves of shutting down the NX business in parts of Europe and rumors of selling to Nikon are delivering a major blow to the brand.
Any enthusiast who was on the fence about buying a Samsung NX camera this Christmas just cancelled their order – or at least put it on hold until after CES 2016.
If Samsung pulls out of the camera market in the coming months, it won’t be because of “falling demand,” as Samsung claims. It will be because Samsung lost the game. Sony and Fuji have rebuilt their image during the mirrorless boom, which we’re still in the middle of. Sony and Fuji are winning because they are listening to the market and responding to what the market demands.
Samsung’s options today are:
- Pull out of the market and lose
- Sell to Nikon and lose
- Maintain status quo and take the long road
- Double down, squash rumors and throw down the gauntlet right now
There is no way I would recommend someone to buy a Samsung NX camera today. Samsung has lost too much face and it’s one sentence denial of the sale to Nikon is not nearly enough to give me confidence that won’t happen. It doesn’t matter if the rumors aren’t true at this point, Samsung’s brand-equity is already in a free fall because of its actions in Europe and earlier rumors of it quitting the mirrorless business.
If Samsung is going to continue the NX product line, it needs to go big or go home this year at CES.
I’m actually rooting for you Samsung. As big of a giant that Samsung is in the larger consumer electronics space, it is a minnow in the enthusiast imaging market. If Samsung is going to play ball, the time is now.